Former Tar Heel Will Graves had a knack for shooting the long ball, as well as providing a healthy dose of humor, during his time as a Tar Heel, so it’s no surprise that he actively pursued a wide range of shooting contests with his teammates on the wing. Current red-shirt junior Leslie McDonald was an active participant during his freshman season in 2009-10 and continued the games as Reggie Bullock and P.J. Hairston entered the program.
Hairston and Bullock went head-to-head early last season in tracking who knocked down the most 3-pointers in games, but the real fun takes place outside of organized play.
Of note is the standard contest between Bullock, McDonald and Hairston to see who can make the first shot from halfcourt – backwards.
“P.J. usually makes it,” Bullock told reporters during Wednesday’s ACC Operation Basketball media event, before adding, “He’s got the best range on our team, I think.”
Hairston’s range extends even farther. According to Bullock, the sophomore guard has made one-handed backward shots standing at the opposite free throw line. And he’s made that shot more than once.
It’s a common occurrence for one of UNC’s guards to pick a random distant spot on the floor and say, “I can shoot better from here than you.”
Freshman Marcus Paige has gotten into the mix, taking 20 shots from various locations around the horn after practice with Bullock to see who makes the most.
Director of Player Relations and Video Coordinator Eric Hoots has even been roped into the contests. Due to a Bullock make from halfcourt, Hoots has to serve as the junior wing’s personal water boy for the duration of the season (or so says Bullock).
“We just come up with stupid games,” Bullock said. “… There’s always a competition in everything that me, Leslie, Dexter and P.J. do. There’s a competition in everything. We just try to have bragging rights with everything we do.”
The primary benefit, outside of bragging rights, is improved shooting through the extracurricular activities. It’s one thing to line up with a manager underneath the basket as you fire up routine shots in an individual setting; it’s quite another when you’re engaged in a heated contest with teammates.
“If we see somebody making it easy from halfcourt, we should be able to believe that they can make it easy from the 3-point line,” Bullock said. “I think it’s definitely a confidence booster for us in that we can shoot from anywhere on the court. Having those types of competitions and silly games like that, I believe is good for our team because it’s good for team bonding.”
Bullock acknowledges that the UNC program has thrived due to point guard and post play in recent years, while also understanding that for the Tar Heels to accomplish their goals this season, the perimeter scoring has to be a determining factor.
That challenge will be significant. The 2010-11 team earned the unenviable distinction as the worst 3-point shooting team in school history with a 32.8 percentage. Last season’s squad only provided marginal improvement in knocking down 33.5 percent of its attempts from behind the arc.
Head coach Roy Williams is on record as tabbing McDonald as UNC’s top long-range option. The Memphis, Tenn. native is a career 33.2 percent 3-point shooter, while Bullock (.382 3FG in ’11-‘12) and Hairston (.273 3FG in ’11-‘12) will also be counted on to deliver from deep.
“I think it’s going to be a big year for our wing players,” Bullock said. “… This year it’s going to be up to the wings to be able to step up and knock down shots because we don’t have that powerful interior that we had.”
Sophomore forward James Michael McAdoo, who represents UNC’s primary post option, told reporters that the only trick shot of note that he’s made recently was a length-of-the-floor football pass that found the bottom of the net.
When asked if he ever participates in the guards’ fun and games, McAdoo delivered a resounding dose of smack, saying, “No, we usually try to get stuff done when we work out – they just like to play games.”
Bullock could only laugh when told of McAdoo’s response.
“He’s not a shooter,” Bullock said. “That’s why he doesn’t play, because he’s going to lose.”
The Tar Heels will need that level of confidence to parlay into stat sheet success to top preseason expectations.
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